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Suicide Postvention is Prevention

A Proactive Planning Workbook for Communities Affected by Youth Suicide

Brenda Dafoe, MEd, and Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW

Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 34-35

Postvention refers to a range of activities following a suicide. Suicide postvention is part of the overall spectrum of suicide prevention activities. Although postvention occurs after a death by suicide, it is preventive in that it reduces suicide risk by identifying and supporting the emotional and mental health needs of the survivors. Because youth are more susceptible to suicide contagion than older age groups, this workbook addresses the specific issue of youth suicide.

In 2003 we were asked to develop a suicide postvention plan for a northern BC community. Research and our experience with this project showed that there was little information available about the community development process specific to suicide postvention planning. Then, the BC Council for Families asked us to develop a project related to youth suicide. We realized the learning gained from our first project might serve to inform a workbook designed to help other communities both anticipate and effectively respond to the tragedy of youth suicide.

Working with a knowledgeable advisory committee, we reviewed the literature on postvention and drew from our practical experience to develop the workbook, Suicide Postvention is Prevention: A Proactive Planning Workbook for Communities Affected by Youth Suicide.

Hope for the future

It is our hope that the practical suggestions in this workbook, which are based on the experience of the authors, of suicide survivors and of current research, will both inspire and enable communities to develop their own suicide postvention plans. The ultimate goal is to prevent further suicides and to support these individuals and communities in their healing.

“A community commitment to immediate identification of, and intervention with, survivors can turn postvention reaction into prevention strategies.”

The importance of a planned postvention response following a death by suicide cannot be underestimated. No community is immune to suicide.

Did you know?

  • The primary purpose of suicide postvention is to support the emotional recovery of survivors while preventing contagion or imitative suicidal behaviour

  • Youth, particularly those with a history of previous suicidal behaviour or depression, may be influenced to attempt suicide in the aftermath of another’s suicide

  • A planned response to support friends and others can be effective in reducing psychological, physical, and social difficulties in suicide survivors

Communities that are prepared to respond can be assured that they have done everything possible to prevent further suicides. These communities ensure that at-risk and vulnerable youth receive a coordinated and timely response, including education, assessment, treatment, follow-up and caring support.

Inside the Workbook - Building local commitment

Communities can benefit from developing a response strategy, organizing and convening a suicide postvention coordinating committee, and identifying community resources to respond during the aftermath of a youth suicide. Community coordination is required to ensure both buy-in and the ability to actually enable the postvention plan when a crisis occurs. A workable strategy for coordination and response is outlined.

Suicide postvention tasks

When a youth dies by suicide, there is a complex set of needs that require immediate attention. This chapter identifies and discusses the crisis intervention tasks necessary for an effective community postvention response.

These tasks are based on best-practice recommendations in the field of suicide, draw upon various theoretical models, and reflect input from community consultation processes (Prince George, 2003; Sechelt, 2004). They include gathering the facts about the suicide, notifying the school and other relevant agencies, ensuring responsible media coverage, identifying and assisting youth at increased risk of suicide, initiating crisis counselling and support, debriefing and supporting professionals, communicating funeral information, considering remembrance activities, ensuring ongoing support for survivors, and facilitating a suicide postvention protocol review meeting.

Schools and postvention

School systems are an integral part of a community. As the majority of young people who die by suicide are part of a school community, the school becomes a natural place for a postvention response. Identifying youth who may be at risk for suicide, and responding to the emotional and psychological needs of all students, is crucial. Suggested postvention procedures for schools are discussed.

Cultural considerations in postvention

We must always be mindful of cultural considerations. In the aftermath of suicide, close attention should be paid to the unique cultural meaning of suicide, as well as to local healing practices for the family, community, and cultural group who have experienced the loss. Culturally respectful guidelines are outlined.

Planning for the future

This final chapter addresses suicide postvention protocol implementation, community resource allocation, follow-up of protocol effectiveness and future training needs. With proactive postvention planning your community can build overall suicide prevention capacity and create a clear sense of direction in the aftermath of a youth suicide.

Appendices

Workbook appendices expand upon important and related postvention issues, including the following:

  • Responsible media reporting emphasizes the importance of media guidelines; research confirms there is an increase in suicides, particularly amongst youth, following a suicide story in the media

  • Death notices and the importance of language discusses the importance of naming suicide as the cause of death and offers suggestions from survivors regarding wording in death notices

  • Psychosocial debriefing both clarifies and cautions regarding the use of this intervention following a death by suicide

  • Grief and trauma after suicide clarifies the difference between these two reactions through case example

  • Supporting survivors of suicide is informed by suicide survivors who offer insight into responding to the unique challenges of grieving the loss of a loved one by suicide

  • When a client dies acknowledges that caregivers themselves are survivors and emphasizes the importance of personal self-care for professionals

  • Post-traumatic growth may occur when survivors find meaning and new-found personal strength in the wake of tragedy

 
About the Authors

Brenda is an Adult Education Consultant living in the Vancouver area. She has been involved in suicide prevention for over 20 years as a LivingWorks trainer, curriculum writer, workshop developer and facilitator

Lynda specializes in stress and trauma management within high-risk occupational sectors. She offers training, coaching, consulting and writing services through her business, Creative Wellness (creativewellnessworks. com), and is Executive Director of Fisher & Associates (fisherandassociates.org), located in Victoria

Footnotes
  1. Paul, K. (1995). The development process of a community postvention protocol. In B. Mishara (Ed.). The impact of suicide. New York: Springer Publishing

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